Saturday, October 22, 2011

How to Call a Show

I am almost done with the show I currently am working on, so as a nod to being almost done I would like to post a list of things to keep in mind when calling a show as a stage manager.  Some of these points I knew before ever calling a show, some of them I didn't and wish I had been told.

1. Say the Operative Word (Go) Last
Many beginning stage managers say: Go Lights or Go Sound.  However, if you do things in this order than your board operators (or crew in general if it's a fly cue or set change or automation, etc) have no idea which department needs to go and they will always be late executing their cues.

2. Give as Much Information as Possible
If you have time, I have honestly found it best if you say Lights 57...Go (or in my case I say Light Cue 57...Go, which is just a personal preference).  Giving the number, letter, designation of a cue provides a discrete check in with your crew over whether you are in the correct cue.  When you have a series of cues that happens to quickly to do this then I will say Lights...Go, but I will always, always denote in my script the number of the cue in parentheses, even when I don't say it.

3. Give Standbys
This is basic etiquette, but it is very important.  Especially in a show that has fewer cues, board operates are not constantly in "standby mode" with their finger hovering over the button.  Giving a standby in advance will instantly put board ops into ready mode so they can execute a cue quickly.

If you are working a show with many cues (like I am now) than give your standbys in batches: ie. Standby Light Cues 5 through 15, Sound Cues 3 and 4, and Fly Cues 7 through 9.  Generally giving standbys in-between songs or major bouts of action works nicely.  When you are giving your standbys in batches, I try to denote roughly how many cues the operators will be taking so I say "and" if it's only two cues, but "through" if it's more.  This is a little personal touch but I have been complemented on it.  Also when you say Standby Lights 7 and 8, but you also have Lights 7.3, 7.5, and 7.7, it gets very confusing.

4. Speak Clearly and Distinctly (Don't get Excited)
This happened to me a lot more frequently when I first started calling show, but when you get excited or anxious about an upcoming cue, your (or at least my) voice tends to speed up and words tend to blur together.  If a board op thought you said Sound but really you said Lights, then you can get into major trouble board ops are trained to do what you say, so it's really your fault.  Say the department and number well in advanced so you can be distinct and be very clear and firm when you say Go.  This is particularly important to remember when you are calling "bumps" which are 0 second cues at the ending note of some musical numbers.

5. Make "Go" a Separate Thought
I have met even some professional stage managers who like to get the cue in as close to when it needs to happen as possible.  That is really not my style and in my opinion, it makes it difficult on your crew.  My advice is say the department and cue number beforehand and end with an upward inflection to indicate you aren't done.  For example: Light Cue Forty-Twooo...Go.

Related, but I find when I say the department and cue number with a short and terse inflection very inexperience board operators sometimes think that that's when they are supposed to take the cue.

6. Your Board Operators have a Response Time
This one took me some time to figure out, but every crew members is different.  Some are lighting quick and some have about a second delay before executing the cue.  You can talk to your crew about the delay as much as you want, but sometimes it really does just have to do with their reflexes and so you should keep this in mind when calling a show, particularly when working with a crew you haven't worked with before.

7. Words Take Time
This ones interesting and I basically have only figured it out in the past several months.  When a designer, says I want this cue on this word, they generally won't tell you which exact syllable (I have had some designers who did this and I actually enjoyed the specificity, but it's not common).  You can ask them if they have a preference, but frequently they will say that it's up to you.  This is where creativity comes into stage management.  Especially in musicals, it means sometimes you can have a good deal of leeway about when to call a cue.  My advice is to experiment with what looks best.  Does it look (this generally is a visual thing and not a aural one) better when the cue finishes before the next word or when the cue is just starting before the next word.

8. Cues Take Time 
This realization caught me by surprise the second show I called.  The first lighting designer I worked with liked 5 second fade times.  However the next lighting designer preferred 3 seconds as a default.  It is very personal to each designer and you have to take into account that if a 5 second cue needs to be finished by a particular words and there's only 3 seconds in between words, then you need to call the cue earlier.

9. Know how Every Cue should Look/Sound
This is my last point and it's just general good advice.  You need to know how every change looks and sounds so you can recognize immediately if something is wrong.  Noticing: this cue looks wrong in a subtle cue means you are more likely to be able to fix it before you have problems when you reach an obvious cue.  This is why I like to specific cue numbers.

10. Write Out your Cues Clearly
This one can be for your own sanity's sake, but more importantly, if for some horrible reason, something happens to you, then someone else will need to call the show.  Thus, if your cues are written out extremely clearly, standbys included, then the other person will be able to understand them.  I also tend to note anything important about the cue such as: When Susan Crosses Center Stage (S Xs CS) and such.

11.  Be Consistent
Try to start saying the cue at around the same place every night, it's a good habit and it will mean the cues almost become "muscle" memory.  I don't always do this but I will sometimes make a dot in the script where I want to start saying the cue and sometimes even I dot when I want to be finished saying it.

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